I can’t remember if I ever thanked my father for being one of the people who saved the world from Adolph Hitler. If I didn’t, I should have, even though he was the type of person, when I was a child, who didn’t want the extra attention. Had he lived longer, now he might have enjoyed the World War II memorial, might have liked being called one of The Greatest Generation, and might have told the real stories instead of the funny ones my brother and I heard.
Though he survived World War II, I always think of him on Remembrance Day–yes, in the U.S. it’s Veterans Day, but my grandmother and parents always called it Remembrance Day. Any soldier back through history to the first gives up their everyday life to go fight for concepts that are sometimes nebulous. I believe that wasn’t so in World War II. I think it was very clear that if we hadn’t stopped the Nazis, there would not be a human race today. Or if there were, we would be unrecognizable as human beings.
As I studied World War II in high school and college and learned about the battles my father was in, I thought he would be my personal resource. He continually turned me back to the books instead. When I learned that an Allied victory wasn’t the sure thing the history books made it out to be, I understood how very close I came to not being born. Even then, he would say it was his job, it had to be done.
He returned home with physical wounds that healed and psychological ones that didn’t, just like soldiers today. When he was in the Battle of the Bulge, he was 18 and a half years old, had been a soldier for almost two years, and was one of the youngest sergeants in the U.S. Army at the time. He loved being an NCO (he eventually became a master sergeant) and turned down all offers to go to officer candidate school. He would wink and say, “The sergeants run the Army anyway. Why would I want to be an officer?”
If I didn’t thank him, I do it now, as I thank everyone who served, who protected us and gave us the freedom to be who we are, and who continue to do so–whether I agree with the reasons or not. Veterans, especially wounded veterans deserve everything we can give them. They don’t deserve elected officials like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) to argue against a veterans employment bill by saying it creates a separate class of individuals, that it’s not egalitarian. Sen. DeMint clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and the rest of us know that we don’t casually call them heroes–because they are.
I’ll close with my favorite poem about the inhumanity of war and what it can do to soldiers, Seamus Heaney’s “Requiem for the Croppies.”
The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley,
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp,
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching, on the hike,
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until, on Vinegar Hill, the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August the barley grew up out of our grave.